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Updates: NASA’s Juno spacecraft begins orbiting Jupiter

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After traveling for nearly five years and 1.8-billion miles, NASA’s Juno spacecraft made it to Jupiter on July 4 and began orbiting the planet at 8:53 p.m. Pacific time -- just one second off its scheduled arrival. Here’s everything you need to know about the mission.

‘Juno sang to us, and it was a song of perfection’

Rick Nybakken, the project manager for NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, tore up his copy of the space agency’s contingency communications procedure — the plan for if the mission failed.

He wouldn’t be needing it.

On Monday night, Juno fired its engine for 35 minutes and eased itself into orbit around Jupiter. Scientists and engineers gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory followed the spacecraft’s progress, listening for the tones that would tell them everything was on track.

Was it ever. After traveling through the solar system for nearly five years, Juno began orbiting Jupiter at 8:53 p.m. PDT, a mere 1-second deviation from its intended schedule.

“Tonight, through tones, Juno sang to us, and it was a song of perfection,” Nybakken said at a briefing.

Read MoreAmina Khan

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Juno gives humanity its first look at planetary motion in action

Before shutting off its camera on final approach to Jupiter, Juno took a series of pictures of the giant planet and some of its larger moons. NASA stitched them together into this video, giving humanity its first direct glimpse of celestial harmonic motion.

“It’s harmony at every scale,” Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the Juno mission, said as he unveiled the video Monday night at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Karen Kaplan

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Google honors NASA’s Juno team with a doodle

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Some happy scientists and engineers at JPL

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‘Welcome to Jupiter’: Juno is officially in orbit around the planet

Cheers and wild applause erupted in the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at 8:53 – Juno had entered orbit around Jupiter, just one second off the predicted time.

It was a jubilant end to a nearly five-year journey that saw Juno travel 1.8 billion miles from Earth to the solar system’s largest planet.

The engineers had been waiting quietly for the final signal that would tell them the spacecraft had completed its 35-minute main burn sequence. Upon hearing it, they high-fived and hugged and punched firsts into the air.

“Welcome to Jupiter,” they repeated to one another.

A mere minutes after Juno had entered Jupiter’s embrace, Michael Watkins -- who took over as JPL director on Friday – was already treating the orbit insertion like old news.

“It’s the end of the voyage, but it’s the beginning of the science,” he said on NASA TV.

Amina Khan

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Could Jupiter have a rocky core, like Earth?

Jupiter may be the quintessential gas giant, but scientists think it may have a rocky core at its center. That’s one of the things Juno hopes to find out, as program scientist Jared Espley explains.

Amina Khan, Megan Daley

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What picture would YOU like Juno to take?

Is there a particular part of Jupiter that you’d like to see? You can help NASA decide which picture to take. Candice Hansen explains why.

Amina Khan, Megan Daley

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Juno now controlled by Jupiter’s gravity, not the sun’s

Sporadic cheers erupted without warning in the mission control room about 20 minutes into Juno’s 35-minute main-engine burn.

Scott Bolton, the mission’s principal investigator, explained that while it was not yet in the desired orbit, the spacecraft had now been captured by the gas giant’s gravity.

“We’ve made the transition from being in orbit around the sun to being in orbit around Jupiter,” he said.

“I’m a little more relaxed than I was before the burn started,” Bolton added around 8:47 p.m., a few minutes before the end of the burn. “I’m really looking forward to the science at this point.”

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A heart-stopping moment as Juno begins main engine burn

In the mission control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, engineers sat silently with their arms crossed, ignoring the sound of camera shutters breaking the silence.

Then, at about 8:18, came the signal: NASA’s Juno spacecraft had started its main engine burn, the 35-minute sequence that would place it into orbit around Jupiter.

Cheers erupted in the mission control room, and NASA staffers watching the proceedings from a nearby auditorium broke into wild applause.

It was a heart-stopping moment, at least for Juno project manager Rick Nybakken.

“Mine stopped, and then restarted. Just like our main engine,” he said.

Amina Khan

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Juno is pushing the limits of solar-power technology

Juno is extremely far away from the sun, yet it’s counting on solar panels to provide the energy it needs to make 37 orbits around Jupiter. Candice Hansen from the Juno team explains why engineers made this decision.

Amina Khan, Megan Daley

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Juno begins the burn sequence that should put it in Jupiter orbit

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Does Jupiter have a polar vortex?

Candice Hansen, the point person for the JunoCam instrument, explains what the instrument may reveal about Jupiter.

Amina Khan, Megan Daley

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Spinning faster

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Why scientists want to know how much water there is on Jupiter

Jared Espley, a Juno program scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explains why it’s important to know how much water is contained in Jupiter.

Amina Khan, Megan Daley

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Objects are not to scale

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The last thing Juno saw before entering Jupiter’s orbit

This is the last view from the JunoCam before it was shut down in preparation for entering orbit around Jupiter. Four of Jupiter's 53 moons are clearly visible.
This is the last view from the JunoCam before it was shut down in preparation for entering orbit around Jupiter. Four of Jupiter’s 53 moons are clearly visible.
(NASA)

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How JPL will know whether Juno made it safely into Jupiter’s orbit

Juno will begin its final maneuvers to enter Jupiter’s orbit around 8:18 p.m. Pacific time, commencing a burn sequence that takes about 35 minutes.

But it takes light 48 minutes to travel from Jupiter to Earth. That means the engineers in the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will not be able to give Juno any real-time guidance. The spacecraft will have to make the drop solo — and it will be executing the maneuver while blind, because its star-tracker cameras will be off.

The engineers at JPL will be able to follow Juno’s progress by listening for a series of tones that will tell them the maneuver is going smoothly.

Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager at JPL, said he would breathe easier when Juno sends back the telltale tone that it has finished the burn and entered orbit.

“When we receive the last tone that tells us the burn is successful, it’ll be music to my ears,” he said.

Read MoreAmina Khan

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What fireworks look like on Jupiter

Jupiter is putting on a fireworks display of sorts.

It’s not for the Fourth of July, of course. These Jovian fireworks happen all the time.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured images of the brilliant blue auroras at Jupiter’s north pole. The auroras are fed by the charged particles from the solar wind and from its volcanic moon Io. As the particles rain down on the atmosphere, they collide with gas atoms and cause them to glow.

On Earth, auroras produce a temporary display of red, green and purple lights. On Jupiter, they’re hundreds of times more powerful, and they never stop.

Read More— Sean Greene

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‘I think there’s no question we will probably discover new moons of Jupiter’

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope caught Jupiter's moon Ganymede playing a game of "peek-a-boo."
(NASA, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona))

Scientists have confirmed the existence of 53 moons in orbit around Jupiter, and another 14 provisional moons are on the waiting list.

But Jupiter is a huge planet, with more than twice the mass of the rest of the solar system’s planets combined. So Scott Bolton, the principal investigator for NASA’s Juno mission, wouldn’t be surprised to find more.

“I think there’s no question we will probably discover new moons of Jupiter,” Bolton said in a briefing Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

Amina Khan

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Why NASA built Juno like an ‘armored tank’

Juno will fly within 2,600 miles of Jupiter, closer than any previous satellite. Over its 20-month mission, it will have to withstand a brutal onslaught of radiation from the solar system’s most punishing planet.

The high-energy electrons around Jupiter are like machine-gun fire: constant and extremely penetrating. After the initial volley, each ricocheting particle releases a spray of subatomic shrapnel that does even more damage.

To even come close to simulating this hostile environment on Earth, NASA engineers brought one of their prototypes to the Curie Institute hospital in Paris and subjected it to a linear accelerator that is normally used to kill tumors in cancer patients.

“Jupiter is really, really hazardous,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute. To withstand the barrage of high-energy electrons, most of Juno’s electronics are inside a titanium vault. “We’re an armored tank.”

Read MoreAmina Khan

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Time to eat the peanuts?

It’s an unusually superstitious tradition for a place that relies on so much precision science and engineering.

The peanut tradition at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory goes back to 1964, when the Ranger 7 mission manager handed them out in the control room.

NASA’s first six Ranger missions to the moon had ended in failure, so the atmosphere was more than a little tense for Ranger 7. Harris Schurmeier figured the peanuts would help relieve some anxiety and enable the JPL team to focus on its mission.

Sure enough, Ranger 7 became the first American spacecraft to reach the moon and send back close-up images of its rocky surface. The success sealed the fate of the peanut-eating tradition.

The good-luck peanuts were on hand when NASA launched the Cassini spacecraft in 1997, and when it arrived at Saturn in 2004.

They were also there in 2012, when the Curiosity rover survived its “seven minutes of terror” and made a safe landing on Mars.

As David Oh, the lead flight director for Curiosity’s mission, told Collectspace.com at the time, “We can use all the luck we can get.”

— Megan Daley

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How will Juno orbit the planet?

Juno is the first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s poles. It will approach the planet from the north and then fly south, coming within 2,600 miles of the surface. The satellite will pass over a different section with each orbit, allowing it to map the entire planet.

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How did Juno get to Jupiter?

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Here’s the reason for Juno’s bizarre orbit around Jupiter

Juno’s elliptical orbit avoids much of the damage from the planet’s hazardous radiation belts.

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Juno arrives at Jupiter: Watch it Live

For nearly five years, Juno has been racing toward Jupiter at speeds of up to 165,000 miles per hour. Soon it will fire its engines and ease itself into orbit around the giant planet.

And you can follow along with NASA as it happens.

If all goes according to plan, the solar-powered spacecraft will fire its main engine at 8:12 p.m. Pacific time. That will slow it down enough to allow Jupiter’s gravity to pull Juno into orbit.

By 8:53 p.m., the engine will have done its job and Juno will begin its first orbit, taking a highly irregular path around the gas giant.

Read More— Megan Daley

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Everything you need to know about Juno in one awesome video

Attention, world: We’re about to arrive at Jupiter. 06/29/2016

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